Review for Babylon 5: Season 2
Babylon 5 is Earth’s first great contribution to the galaxy, a massive space station located in neutral space, a monument to peace and co-operation, with a quarter of a million inhabitants. It’s where the five great powers meet, Humans, Minbari, Centauri, Narn, and Vorlons, as well as the League of Non-Aligned Worlds, to peacefully resolve their differences, to trade, to just get along. At least that is the dream. But given the quarrelsome nature of the ambassadors, particularly the Narn G’Kar and the Centauri Londo Mollari, that’s a difficult ambition to achieve, made all the harder as it becomes clear that many on Earth don’t believe in the Babylon project anymore. On top of that, there are lingering resentments between the Minbari and Earth Alliance, following the war ten years previously in which the all-powerful Minbari inexplicably surrendered, and the Minbari Ambassador Delenn’s enigmatic nature doesn’t offer any further clarity. As for the Vorlon Ambassador Kosh, no one knows what he’s thinking...
The end of the first season saw Londo make a deal with the devil, the Narns paying the price for that, Earth President Santiago was killed when his ship exploded, although too late, Garibaldi found out that it was an assassination, knowledge for which he was attacked. Sinclair was recalled to Earth for reassignment, and Delenn made a life-altering decision. As the second season begins, she’s in a chrysalis, although into what she is transforming, no-one knows. And with a rogue Minbari warship spotted in the area, Babylon 5 gets a new commander, war hero Captain John Sheridan, the one man to actually defeat a Minbari warship during the war. He’s not the diplomat Sinclair was, and he’ll rub most of the aliens the wrong way...
22 more episodes of Babylon 5 are presented in this Season 2 Collection, The Coming of Shadows, across 6 discs.
1. Points of Departure
3. The Geometry of Shadows
4. A Distant Star
5. The Long Dark
6. A Spider in the Web
7. Soul Mates
8. A Race Through the Dark Places
9. The Coming of Shadows
11. All Alone in the Night
12. Acts of Sacrifice
13. Hunter, Prey
14. There All the Honor Lies
15. And Now for a Word
16. In the Shadow of Z’Ha’Dum
18. Confessions and Lamentations
19. Divided Loyalties
20. The Long, Twilight Struggle
21. Comes the Inquisitor
22. The Fall of Night
The 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer is the same mixed bag as season 1’s, and it looks as if it will be a constant going through the five seasons. You have clear and sharp live action film elements, albeit occasionally afflicted by print damage and minor scratches. The space effects shots are cropped and zoomed from the video masters, and any live action shot with effects is also going to be cropped and zoomed, as are the credit sequences, and crossfades between live action and effects. For season 2 we have another crime, horizontally stretched effects shots instead of zoomed and cropped, so now we have B5 in some scenes appearing 30% longer and thinner than it should. But... it is watchable.
In this season, episode 15 is a particular problem, as it’s written with the conceit that it is a news television show aboard Babylon 5. There’s a whole lot of on screen text as you would expect from a current affairs programme, and whenever that happens, the image reverts to cropped and zoomed video footage. I’d say eighty percent of this episode is in this low resolution form, but it’s probably as bad as this series will get when it comes to video quality.
The audio choices change a little for this second season. You now get DD 5.1 Surround English, 2.0 Surround French, with English, French, Dutch and Arabic subtitles. The show was originally broadcast in stereo, so the surround doesn’t offer much more than that in the way of discreet placement of effects and action. But still, the general experience is quite immersive, and enjoyable. The dialogue is mostly clear, although volume levels are low. An occasional flick on of the subtitles might be required. Christopher Franke maintains the show’s style, one of symphonic electronica.
You get six discs in an Amaray case, with four discs on either side of two central hinged panels, and two discs front and back, a fine economy of space. The inner sleeve has an episode listing. Each disc presents its contents with animated menus. For the second season, the episode select screen also offers the previews for each episode, presented in 4:3 format.
Disc 1 offers a 5:35 minute introduction to the collection from creator J. Michael Straczynski, the cast and the crew.
You also get a commentary on episode 3, The Geometry of Shadows, featuring Bruce Boxleitner (Sheridan), Jerry Doyle (Garibaldi), and Claudia Christian (Ivanova). It’s a happy reunion for the actors, and a bit of a free-for-all. It’s a fun commentary if not exactly the most informative.
Disc 4 has a commentary on episode 16, In the Shadow of Z’Ha’Dum from creator J. Michael Straczynski. This is an informative commentary with more about the making of the show, but as usual you should be aware of spoilers for the rest of the series.
The rest of the extras are on Disc 6, beginning with J. Michael Straczynski’s commentary on episode 22, The Fall of Night.
Building Babylon: Blueprint of an Episode lasts 13:45, and takes us through the process from script to screen, with interviews with the cast and crew.
Shadows and Dreams: Honors of Babylon lasts 8:37, and takes a look at the two Hugo Awards that the show won, the first of which came with this season’s The Coming of Shadows.
The Universe of Babylon 5 once more offers a timeline and video glossary for the show, updating it with info on characters, technology and the like for season 2.
If you can find it, there’s an Easter Egg linking to a gag reel.
Season 1 might have been hit and miss, but Season 2 of Babylon 5 was the one that won me over. It hit the ground running, and it just got better and better as the year progressed. Once again, I had no idea what was coming the first time around, but this time, with the benefit of hindsight, it’s even better, although I have to admit that the ‘Vorlon reveal’ can never be as effective with a re-watch.
Season 1 ended on quite the cliff-hanger, with the President assassinated, and Garibaldi shot by one of the conspirators. At the start of this season, we learn that Sinclair has been replaced (a change that I was happy with given my criticisms of the Sinclair character), although the eager boy scout that was John Sheridan was initially unpromising. He may have been a war veteran, but his enthusiastic approach to everything crossed the border into goofy on more than one occasion early on. It turns out that this was a deliberate decision on the part of Straczynski to make the shattering of his optimistic illusions all the more effective.
Season 2 is all about the slow build to the Shadow War, although despite the prologue declaiming that this was the year that the great war came to them all, it’s actually seen more through the microcosm of the Narn Centauri War which begins in this season. The first two episodes deal with the aftermath of the cliff-hanger, introducing John Sheridan as an initially less conciliatory leader for Babylon 5, Delenn hatching from her chrysalis and becoming part human, ostensibly a bridge between the species, and Garibaldi waking up from his coma, learning who his assailant was. All the while, Londo gets in deeper with his new ‘best friends’ and the consequences of that playing out in the Centauri power grab that results, as the race goes about regaining its ‘rightful’ place of dominance in the galaxy.
It’s a great overarching story that develops this year, with Londo falling deeper and deeper into darkness, his customary ebullience gradually fading away. The friction between the Narn and the Centauri increases over the first few episodes, but the last chance to avert the oncoming storm occurs when the Centauri Emperor visits Babylon 5. He’s the last reasonable man on his planet, and in his dying breath he gives G’Kar hope, but that hope is cruelly snatched away, when Londo once again chooses expediency and darkness to further his own ambition rather than choosing hope. Prior to this point, you might have thought that he still had a chance for redemption, but the Coming of Shadows is where he fully commits to his fate.
Another key episode is In the Shadow of Z’Ha’Dum, where Sheridan learns that Morden, Londo’s mysterious benefactor, was a crewmember on the Icarus, his wife’s doomed ship. His obsessive pursuit of Morden and the truth threatens Delenn and Kosh’s plans against the Shadows, so it’s at this point that Sheridan is brought into their group, the truth revealed. Of course there are half a dozen other plots unfolding, the telepaths escaping from Earth and the Psi-Corps, President Clark’s new administration taking Earth in an unexpected direction, so that at the end of the season when they send a peace mission to Babylon 5, it isn’t to help the Narn that have recently been soundly defeated and subjugated by the Centauri, it’s to ally with the Centauri.
The odd behaviour from Earthdome is noticed earlier than that, and Sheridan become part of a conspiracy himself, to keep an eye on Earth, and act when things look as if they are going off the rails. There’s an early example when the President’s personal physician is declared a fugitive and he goes on the run, accused of treason. It’s quite understandable then that the Earth Alliance patriot that we meet at the start of the series is rapidly disillusioned, and during his stay on Babylon 5 falls out of step with the government, to the point where they attempt to have him removed. At the same time, with Delenn having taken on a more human appearance, she finds that her own people shun her, she’s removed from the Grey Council and belittled by other Minbari. The two outsiders form an unlikely relationship which grows over the season.
There are a fair number of standalone stories in this season, although there’s always something going on in the background adding to the bigger picture. A Drazi ritual battle accompanies the introduction of the Technomages, another significant element in the B5 universe. A ship lost in hyperspace needing rescue has one of the fighter pilots encounter a Shadow ship, kicking off an obsession. A sublight sleeper ship bearing a crew from the past has an immaterial stowaway heading for an ominous destination. One of my favourite episodes is where Londo’s wives all show up on the station, one of the last frivolous episodes featuring the character before the galaxy all goes to hell. One of the darker episodes is Confessions and Lamentations, and is probably the most Star Trek of the episodes this year, and it plays almost as sequel to Believers from season 1. This time an entire race is infected with a lethal disease, and Franklin races against time to find a cure. In any other show, there would be a happy ending, but not in Babylon 5, with an episode that makes nu-Battlestar Galactica look like a birthday party.
Disappointments? There are a few. One is the disposition of Talia Winters, who certainly goes out with a flamboyant flourish. The character certainly wasn’t used to her full potential, and you can see why the actress wanted out, but it does leave niggling questions of continuity, including one lingering plot arc from season 1. It does allow for the return of Lyta Alexander though, who has a more resonant story arc. The second is the character of Warren Keffer, who we learn was Warner Brothers’ last instruction to J. Michael Straczynski, a hotshot fighter pilot. Straczynski reveals that his plan was always to write the character out, but I feel it was a bit of a lost opportunity for a lower decks perspective on the story.
Really, season 2 is where Babylon 5 comes good. If you’re not hooked on the show by this point, you may as well give up!